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Flood fight continues

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ST. PAUL — Sunshine improved many water-logged Minnesotans’ spirits Monday, but a flood fight may continue all summer for some.

With damage reports flowing in, state elected officials Monday extended for 30 days a disaster declaration Gov. Mark Dayton signed last week. While it lists 35 counties as part of the storm disaster, the state’s emergency services manager said that by Monday 46 of the state’s 87 counties had reported flood and other storm damage.

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“We are going to be wherever we are needed,” Dayton promised after the state Executive Council unanimously approved the disaster declaration during a minutes-long meeting.

The action gives state agencies such as the National Guard authority to help deal with floods.

About 100 National Guard troops are helping in the Rainy Lake area, especially with sandbagging, and another 20 are in Henderson, southwest of the Twin Cities.

Dayton said that in his decades of public service, this is the most extensive disaster he has seen. “The scale of it is overwhelming.”

Flooding has occurred from the Canadian border to the Iowa and South Dakota state lines, with some areas also experiencing mud slides. Crops and other property also have been affected by hail and wind.

In southwest Minnesota’s Rock County, the governor said, 100,000 acres of the 250,000 acres of crops have been destroyed.

Besides Rock County crop damage, 20 culverts were washed out, making travel difficult on county roads. Mennonite Disaster Services helped repair fences in Rock County on Monday and other church groups provided aid in Rock and Pipestone counties.

In northern Minnesota, the disaster could be a summer-long problem, Minnesota Emergency Services Director Kris Eide said in an interview.

Volunteers and National Guard troops filled 300,000 sandbags to keep Rainy Lake water out of homes and businesses.

Rainy Lake, at International Falls, is not expected to crest until mid-July, Eide said. The water gradually will make its way into Lake of the Woods, where Warroad officials are preparing for what could be a late-summer crest.

Elsewhere in the state, most streams and lakes are expected to crest this week. While Monday’s sunshine in much of Minnesota was encouraging, thunderstorms are possible.

“We still have a building emergency,” said Dayton, who plans to tour Twin Cities-area flooding today and hopes to go to Warroad and return to northeastern Minnesota for a second look on Wednesday.

The National Weather Service reported that thunderstorms are possible the rest of the week, “but nothing coming at Minnesota looks like a severe weather producer or heavy rain maker.”

Unlike most recent years, the only part of the state that has not reported flood damage to Eide’s office is the Red River Valley in the northwest, she said. There has been lowland flooding in the area, but no property damage, she added.

A new law gives the state $3 million to pay toward disasters, but if the state cost is higher than that Dayton may need to call the Legislature into special session to appropriate more money. He called that the last resort.

Generally, federal dollars pay for 75 percent of storm-recovery costs, with the state paying most of the remainder. Officials said there was little doubt that damages throughout the state would reach the $7.3 million threshold for federal aid.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx did not wait for a federal disaster declaration. On Monday, he approved the immediate availability of $750,000 to help fix Minnesota flood-damaged roads.

“One of the first steps in getting repairs underway is to make funds available and we are working to ensure the state can get the necessary work started quickly,” Foxx said.

Chief among highway impacts was the Stillwater Lift Bridge, which closed Monday morning and will remain closed until St. Croix River waters recede. The closing of the major Wisconsin-Minnesota bridge diverted thousands of commuter cars a day to an Interstate 94 bridge at Hudson, Wis.

About 15 state roads were closed Monday afternoon, with many more local roads and streets also flooded.

The State Emergency Operations Center reported major flooding around Watertown, Delano, Rockford, St. Paul, Hastings, Montevideo and Henderson. No serious injuries or deaths have been reported.

Eide said that about 1,000 Minnesota families have been affected, with damage reported in about 50 homes. However, she said, those with just basement problems probably will not receive federal help.

In St. Paul, the Mississippi is expected to crest at more than 20 feet Wednesday, its sixth-highest on record. No major damage has been reported, although the city’s downtown airport closed two runways and shortened a third.

In southern Minnesota’s Blue Earth County, a mudslide caused problems. Nearby, Faribault County officials reported straight-line winds blew personal property and downed trees countywide.

Drinking water and sewage systems in parts of Minnesota have been affected.

Problems began June 11 when heavy rains fell on already-saturated ground. Koochiching in the northeast and Rock in the southwest were the first counties to report flooding. As rains continued, flooding occurred in more than half of the state’s counties.

President Barack Obama plans to be in the Twin Cities Thursday, and Dayton said he would like to talk to him about the disaster. However, the governor added, he does not know if they two — who were U.S. Senate colleagues for a time — will meet.

The latest Minnesota state road closings are available at 511mn.org.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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